Pepper, Stings, and the Vast Middle Ground

Kevin from Texas makes a very germane and important comment on the latest Bishop Tobin thread:

As a point of reference, I’ve searched in vain over the archives of your blog for the past few weeks to see even one single post directly critical of the Obama administration’s anti-life policies, political appointments, or even the State-level issues where the Church is being attacked (e.g., the brouhaha in CT a few weeks back, as well as the anti-Prop 8 bullies vandalizing churches and harassing/threatening Prop 8 supporters in California). To be sure, you have indirectly criticized some of these things, but you tend to do so in posts that first take aim at the Catholics with whose tactics you disagree.

I suppose if I were writing for a mainstream audience rather than the Catholic corner of the internet, I would need to adapt and change the focus. I would want to. When I’ve written for the secular media on religion my tone is totally different. My site statistics, which I do track fairly carefully, tell me almost all of my traffic comes from Catholic sites, mostly conservative ones, with the occasional Google search for wedding information. So I have a sense of who’s reading me.

I have no doubt that Catholic conservatives believe I’m more critical of them than of either pro-choice or anti-life folks outside the fold. I’ve made it a practice, as Liam notes, not to parrot what others have said sooner and better than I. This blog was begun as a challenge to me by many who noted that I had commented on discussion sites and other blogs since 1998 or so, but had never begun one of my own. I’m assuming my readers frequent the big and small Catholic blogs and if you want to read outrage against pro-choice citizens and politicians, there are places to go. If the whole Catholic blogosphere were a soup, I might be a flake of red pepper: you don’t want to pick me out of the mix and rely on the spice for your daily intake requirement. But I’m a good complement to cream or meat or vegetables or other flavorings in the mix.

Right from the start, my writing continued what I contributed on other people’s web sites:  an alternative take on Catholic issues from what I view as a majority conservative community on the internet. It’s not terribly different from the role I play in parish committees, including my staff. I try to offer a different perspective from the mainstream. In a professional setting, I wonder about parishioner views on the matter discussed. With parishioners, I urge them to consider what the pastor or larger parish will feel as an impact. With musicians, I ask them to ponder how the singing congregation will respond. Among musicians, I encourage them to listen to others and offer their own distinctive contribution in context. It’s largely governed by my own personality: inquisitive, restless, dissatisfied, unconventional, and sometimes contrary.

In other words, my role has been to be the idea person: to build on discussions by offering options, different insights, and the like. Once they get comfortable with me, conservatives especially appreciate that I can be trusted to bring their sensibility to the table. As a long-time booster for the underdog, I actually relish the role.

Kevin also wrote:

You’ll forgive the easy assumption, I’m sure, that some Catholic conservatives make that you are more critical of Catholics with whom you disagree politically than with the clearly anti-life and anti RC Church policies being drummed through the secular media almost non-stop since Obama’s seating as POTUS.

He has stumbled into an ongoing ten-year tussle. Or feud, if you will. For whatever reason, the internet has spawned a subculture where people are more open, more biting, and less nice than they are in person. I make some confessions at this point. I’m just as guilty of it as anyone else. I can deliver sarcasm and humor in a way I wouldn’t in real life. Even private e-mail exchanges I’ve had are generally more polite than discussion group and combox chatter. It is something I think about frequently. I also know the tone I’ve taken here the past few months has been a little more harsh. I notice it. I’m concerned. But for the moment, it is as it is.

I don’t mind admitting publicly I’ve felt stung by other internet Catholics over the years. Some web sites seem to draw a huge number of extremists, folks who don’t really know their faith, theology, or politics, but will let you know you are an evil heretic and a troll. The insults delivered from these people don’t really mean a lot to me. It’s clear to most people they harm themselves more than me. And I’ve been on the delivery end of idiot exchanges, too. I’m not proud about it, but there it is.

As for people I do admire or consider a friend or intelligent or thoughtful enough to be above that, it does bother me more that some extremists are more welcome than I on their web sites. I can confess I struggle not to hold a grudge. While I do lurk on some liberal sites and comment there occasionally, I have felt far more ill-treatment at the hands of conservative Catholics. I have no doubt this is all very obvious to St Blog’s regulars, people who have known me for years.

I’ve often felt we bloggers could take matters into our own hands, to have frank, firm, but respectful exchanges and to minimize the crazy element. As a point of fact, I have approached a number of conservative bloggers over the years for a combined or collaborative approach. These attempts have been almost totally fruitless. Only on one occasion, was I approached for a serious experiment from the “other” side. Aside from an occasional spot on Brian Craig’s Catholic Radio, and the very occasional group effort, there’s pretty much nothing going on in Kevin’s “middle ground” that I’ve been asked to be a part of. About the only thing I can hang my hat on is that it’s not been for lack of invitation or effort on my part. The level of trust is not high, not nearly high enough for most anyone to commit to something substantive or long-term to give it a real chance to work out.

So when some Catholics talk about being more strident and aggressive in their politics and other interpersonal dealings, I have to shake my head in wonder. What that’s about? Many bloggers I know have been off their nice pills for a decade or more. Their commentariats trend worse. I hear others complain about “the most anti-Catholic … policies ever proposed in this country’s history,” I recall reading of Catholic prejudice in history and the de facto exclusion of Catholics from US democracy, and it’s hard to take seriously. The pope as a Catholic leader and many cultural aspects of Catholicism are fondly considered by many non-Catholics. Society at-large doubts the crazies.

To wrap it up for today, let me offer this little parallel for my conservative readers. You and I are a microcosm of the society at large. You criticize the culture, then complain the populace and its politicians ignore you. It’s probably not far different from the dynamic you and I share. I criticize and sting you; you prefer not to deal with me. 

Final question: why should you expect to be treated any differently than you treat others? Who has the greater potential for being more fair and just: society at large, or the Catholics who desire passionately to be the leaven the world needs?


About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in the Pacific Northwest, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
This entry was posted in Commentary, Politics, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Pepper, Stings, and the Vast Middle Ground

  1. Gerry says:

    Was there a point?

  2. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Todd,

    Thank you for this very sincere posting. I haven’t been reading the blog long enough to know what another commenter and you yourself have pointed out here about your philosophy behind this particular blog, and I understand it much better now. Of course we will continue to have differing political viewpoints and approaches, but I can read your posts through a less defensive lens now, in many ways.

    That said, I don’t think I agree with your comparison at the end of this post that conservative-liberal Catholics have a relationship similar to Catholics and the wider, modern culture, either. I would say that’s overstating things a bit, from a Catholic viewpoint. We have far more in common in our mutually shared belief system and traditions than do secular atheists who don’t have any spiritual frame of reference for their attacks on Christian teaching and moral values.

    Dialogue and charity are where it’s at!

  3. Kevin in Texas says:

    To clarify from the above post, I mean that we as Catholics share far more in common with one another, in spite of our differing political views, than any of us do with secular atheists.

  4. Fran says:

    To me this is one of the most, if not the most intelligent places for Catholic thought and conversation.

    I loathe the way that people behind the mask of the internet – myself included. I have really made an effort in the past year not to lose my decorum or dignity and to treat all as Christ. Perhaps I am better behaved here than in person? Well not really.

    The constant us versus them – whether it is conservative or liberal Catholic, Republican or Democrat or Christian versus atheist or whatever is so tiresome to me.

    I just keep thinking about Zaccheus up in that tree in Luke 19. He was the worst guy in town and Jesus just felt compelled to have dinner with him and called him down to do so. And to have dinner at Zaccheus’ own house no less.

    We would all be well advised to do the same here – no matter what “side” we are on.

  5. Fran writes : “I just keep thinking about Zaccheus up in that tree in Luke 19. He was the worst guy in town and Jesus just felt compelled to have dinner with him and called him down to do so. And to have dinner at Zaccheus’ own house no less.”

    Good. And when you come upon a “brood of vipers” likewise treat them as Christ’s example shows us. For “beware the leaven of the Pharisees”

    In other words, those who wallow in filth and attempt to drag others into it should be treated for what they are, while those like Zaccheus who desire to follow Christ should be treated for what they are.

  6. Fran says:

    I have referred to no one as a brood of vipers and I stumble along as most do trying in some way to treat people as Christ’s example shows us. I am not aware of Christ instructing me to strike out in such constant anger to anyone.

    As for “beware the leaven” and wallowing in filth – well I find a lot of anger and vitriol in the use of these words and anger is not what I am here with.

  7. Fran,

    What you are doing now is picking a choosing. You are using Christ’s examples NOT as a means of instruction, but as a means of argument to prove YOUR position regardless of Christs instructions.

    Zaccheus supports your position so you use him. But Christ calling the Pharisees a brood of vipers does not support Your position, so you dismiss it as “constant anger” and ‘vitriol’.

    Why bother citing Christ’s example at all? Unless you intend to follow him in all ways?

  8. Deacon Eric says:

    “I’m sure, that some Catholic conservatives…”

    No need to read any further. When someone sees themselves primarily as conservative, and Catholic becomes a mere modifier to clarify how some of their conservatism is filtered or expressed, they have lost all credibility as far as I am concerned. A conservative Catholic I can deal with, but a Catholic conservative I fear.

  9. Kevin in Texas says:

    Hi Deacon Eric,

    I agree 100% with your point and retract the typo in the original post to Todd. It should have read “conservative Catholic.”

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